By Ferdinand Patinio
MANILA – The Catholic Church has called for a stop to mining activities on Sibuyan Island in Romblon province.
In a statement released by Caritas Philippines on Monday, the Church’s humanitarian and advocacy arm, some dioceses and archdioceses, social action centers, and Caritas organizations opposed the project by the Altai Philippines Mining Corporation (APMC) because it will damage the environment.
“The Social Action Network and Caritas Philippines express serious concerns over the recent events in Romblon and stand in solidarity with its people, who are taking the boldest stance to protect their only home – the beautiful, ecologically rich, and peaceful Sibuyan Island. We call on Altai Philippines Mining Corporation and other conglomerates to stop destructive mining,” the statement read.
The unified statement is supported by 63 dioceses and archdioceses, 30 social action centers, and 23 Caritas organizations.
They said the mining activities will further degrade the island’s natural resources and communities living on the island.
“We believe that the project would not serve the overall interests of the province and would pose a threat, particularly to the lives and lands of the communities on the island, and the rich biodiversity in the area. We feel a moral duty to safeguard and uphold the well-being of our shared environment,” the statement added.
Earlier, the company started nickel ore mining operations on the island, including the construction of a docking port, prompting the residents and environmental groups to form a human barricade near the site.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has ordered a temporary halt to APMC’s mining operations on the island, citing alleged violations.
The notice of violation issued by the DENR-Mimaropa over the weekend said the company violated implementing rules and regulations of the Water Code of the Philippines.
It also said the APMC constructed a causeway without securing an environmental compliance certificate and had cut down trees without a permit.
Also on Monday, Senator Risa Hontiveros filed a resolution seeking an investigation into the mining activities and the Feb. 3 clash between anti-mining protesters and security personnel that left at least two injured.
“Hindi dapat na-uuwi sa karahasan ang mapayapang pagtutol ng mga residente sa panghihimasok ng mga kumpanyang nagmimina sa sarili nilang tahanan. Gusto lamang protektahan ng mga residente ang likas-yaman sa kanilang lugar (We must not allow violence during a peaceful protest against mining companies. The residents just want to protect their natural resources). The residents are well within their rights to protest,” Hontiveros said in a statement.
Sibuyan has been given the distinction of being “The Galapagos in Asia” as it has remained in isolation since its formation.
The Galapagos Islands are in the Pacific Ocean, about 1,000 kilometers west of northern South America. They emerged from the bottom of the sea due to volcanic activities.
“We, in the Senate, should help champion the conservation of the island’s endemic flora and fauna, defend its coastal communities from long-term ecological devastation, and protect the residents from violent incursions of mining companies,” she added.
On Sunday, the APMC said it is saddened by the “recent hostilities” that happened near the vicinity of its mining exploration operations on the island.
In a statement, the company said its operations on the island began many years before setting up a camp on-site and that it has been undertaking comprehensive environmental and socio-economic studies and outcome analyses, consulting with official regulators agencies and engaging the surrounding communities to ensure that its operations will be safe, legitimate and with minimal effects to the environment.
“We categorically deny all allegations questioning the legality of our Sibuyan operations. Our company has secured all the necessary permits and licenses to lawfully and peacefully conduct business in the area,” it added. (PNA)